CAIRO: May God make it easy. It is a phrase oft-repeated among Egyptians who seem to have little hope of accomplishing the task in question.
Rabinah Yesahel, or May God Make It Easy, is also the title of a new documentary which aims to tackle unemployment and underemployment concerns among Egyptian youth, which filmmaker Nermeen Mouftah says is “arguably the most pressing economic and social issue in Egypt right now.
The hopeless tone implied by the title is no coincidence.
“The majority were pessimistic, admits Mouftah, who says she was not surprised by what she heard, having already worked for seven months at the Ministry of Manpower and Migration on the national action plan for youth unemployment, and with the Egyptian Youth Consultative Group (EYCG).
“No one gets good work opportunities . If you don’t have a wasta [connection] you can’t get a job, complain some of the youth in the film. Another who does work says he is somewhat embarrassed that he still has to take an allowance from his father.
Official statistics place unemployment at 10 percent of Egypt’s population of over 70 million, with many estimates placing figures much higher. Ninety-two percent of the unemployed are under 30 years old. Additionally, millions of those who do work are underemployed, often in the informal sector without security. With over a third of the population currently under 15, youth employment is sure to become a growing concern.
Mouftah says she knows that employment is not as “attractive a topic as headliners child labor or FGM, but she insists its consequences are more wide-spread and urgent. Some people have started realizing this, she says, as they discover more and more that those committing acts of terrorism are actually well-educated, bored, and frustrated unemployed members of society. “People are starting to see these links.
While Egyptian, Mouftah has lived in Canada most of her life. Co-filmmaker Mark Freeman was only visiting for the duration of the filmmaking. While Mouftah is keen on emphasizing that the documentary is an amateur production – her first experience with filmmaking and Freeman’s second – the result is impressively professional, polished, and engaging.
Surprising, perhaps, considering that neither filmmaker speaks fluent Arabic. “I still don’t understand 100 percent of [what is said in the film], admits Mouftah, who was assisted by EYCG volunteers and her Arabic tutor. While this made some interviewees skeptical initially, wondering if the pair were out to make Egypt look bad to outsiders, two minutes into talking about the project and people were “incredibly welcoming.
While in Canada, Mouftah says she would hear stories about “what’s going on in Egypt; about relatives who can’t find work there so they move to Saudi Arabia [and] about people who can’t get married because they can’t afford an apartment. To learn more about these issues first-hand, Mouftah applied for an internship with the Ministry through the Canadian government.
Rather than citing particular statistics, Mouftah says what most surprised her while working there were some of the skills that youth were lacking and had never been trained in. “Young people are missing skills on how to organize themselves effectively and work together to do so, citing difficulties even in running an efficient and productive meeting.
While she says the government certainly needs to be doing more, she doesn’t stop there.
“Young people need to be doing more too, says Mouftah. “On a basic level, there needs to be more effort in figuring out what [young people] want to do and not just waiting until they graduate to figure that out.
Mouftah says youth can be proactive by finding summer work, and upgrading their skills throughout their education. One Mobinil executive in the film affirms that if one waits until after graduating to work on skills, “you’ve missed the train.
The private sector has a role too. While there are jobs available, the private sector must work harder at creating better work environments, making “real incentives, in order to attract workers who would otherwise be deterred.
Still, the filmmakers avoided presenting a simplistic view of the issues, saying that while higher socio-economic classes certainly had an easier time finding ‘decent’ work, they also made a lot of sacrifices, often not having time for family. Others selling okra on the street were perfectly content.
It seems God did at least make it easy for Mouftah and Freeman, whose expenditures included only a tripod, some transportation, and an extra hard drive, all amounting to less than $200. Filming was completed in just two weeks and editing and post-production in just three. Finally, Mouftah says the Youth Employment Network, the Ministry of Manpower, the International Labor Organization, and the GTZ, a German international cooperation enterprise for sustainable development, were all eager to help with the film, which was made independently.
For Mouftah though, the film was not only about tackling the issue of unemployment or underemployment. The larger issue for her was about being proactive. She says she was “trying to take the matter into my own hands, and actually doing something.
The website for the project has one yet-to-be-updated section entitled “take action, and another entitled “make your own. The latter reads, “A major motivation behind making this movie was to show people how quick and easy it has become to get your community s message out in the public. Making a movie doesn t solve anything on its own, but people cannot react to, think about or take action on an issue they are unaware of.
May God Make It Easy will debut Monday, July 9 at the Sawy Culture Wheel and will be followed by an open discussion. Representatives from private sector, the EYCG, and the Ministry of Manpower and migration will also be available to answer questions. For more information, visit www.maygodmakeiteasy.com.